Open Cities Graphic final

Making our cities 'open'

As part of our three-year R&D programme, we are seeking to explore, interrogate and encourage the benefit, importance and value of making our cities open, as well as smart.

Cities across the world are building strategies to become smart. 'Smart' is a term defined by IBM as a system that 'makes optimal use of all the interconnected information available today to better understand and control its operations and optimise the use of limited resources'.

Many major cities – including London, Barcelona, Helsinki, Amsterdam, New York, Dubai, Toronto – are expressing an ambition to become smart cities – with varying degrees of success and benefit to citizens. As well as large cities, some smaller cities are also attempting to become 'smart'.

Open principles

At the ODI, we believe that making things as open as possible often makes them better – and this applies to cities too. Cities which want to become ‘smart’ should embed core concepts of openness to make better decisions. These principles include:

An open approach to handling the relevant data captured by smart technologies (such as internet-of-things (IoT) sensors, applications or tech-enabled services) has the power to bring government, business and civil society together in designing, building and transforming our cities.

Building on previous ODI work

The open cities project relates closely to the ODI’s mission of advocating for a data infrastructure that is as open as possible; data literacy and capability for all; and open innovation.

In our previous R&D work we focused on data practices in local authorities, such as in the New service delivery models project. We have also explored data trusts – a model enabling independent stewardship of data held by business and local governments. And we have developed a range of tools to help people, organisations and businesses map data, consider ethical use of data and undertake data risk assessments. We will be touching upon these experiences, projects and learnings throughout this project.

Our approach

We are engaging with decision makers, communities and businesses working within a sample of cities to understand what data is currently being created, used and shared, by the public and private sector.

We are exploring what open approaches, if any, those cities have already taken and from our findings we will evaluate and disseminate the successes and challenges of building open cities.

We are investigating how established and incumbent cities value and apply principles of openness. This includes how authorities work with citizens and businesses to define the aims of smart city projects and build data infrastructures across systems and sectors to deliver them.

By looking under the hood of a sample of cities at various stages of their smart journey, we hope to develop tools and insights focused on working with and encouraging cities which are planning their open and smart strategies.

Get involved

If you have any thoughts on openness within cities, or examples of cities applying openness please contact us.

Key outputs

City data ecosystem

How open-source technologies and open data can help foster sustainable mobility, behaviour and city planning to work towards zero emission cities. Read How to understand and monitor a city data ecosystem to help make better decisions.

Open cities workshop

Find out how our tools can help cities work out what data they have, and how they can use that data effectively and ethically

Find out more

Report: Becoming more open

Our research has found that the language of ‘smart cities’ is little more than a marketing strategy, and that there is a move towards speaking more meaningfully about ‘open cities’

Report: Becoming more open: the view from four European cities

Background and funding

This work is part of a three-year innovation programme, running to March 2020 with a funding profile of £2m each year from Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency.

Through our R&D programme, we aim to shape future services and promote productivity and growth with cutting edge expertise.

Browse our reports and blogs from the research, below.

See all research and development around data innovation for the UK